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BECAUSE WE (ALMOST) MISSED IT: Best of expat nonfiction 2015

Best of Expat Nonfiction 2015

As some readers may recall, I posted, at the end of January, a “best of” list of fiction works by, for, and about expats and other international creatives that came out in 2015.

I know, I know, it should have come out in early December.

And now it’s nearly the end of February, and I still haven’t posted my list of nonfiction books that appeared last year: all of those lovely memoirs, photo guides, guides to expat life, and so on.

But then Leap Day arrived, and I thought to myself: we only get an extra day every four years; why not take the leap and tackle my nonfiction list (so much longer than the fiction one!) once and for all?

Today I present the fruits of my Leap Day labors. May I suggest that you follow my example by springing for one or more of these for your Kindle? Spring is, after all, just around the corner… 🙂

(Hm, if it’s not too late for a New Year’s resolution, I resolve to publish my “best of 2016” list in December. Harumph, do I hear you say? Yes, you are right: famous last words!)

PLEASE NOTE: The books, which include indie as well as traditionally published nonfiction works, are arranged in reverse chronological order.

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The Other Paris_coverThe Other Paris (October 2015)
Author: Luc Sante
Expat credentials: Born in 1954 in Belgium, Sante emigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1960s. On his first visit to Paris, with his mother when he was not quite nine years old, he found the city exciting. Returning as a college student, he couldn’t get enough of the City of Light and spent time hanging out with the literary expat community. Sante currently lives in Ulster County, New York, and teaches at Bard College.
Synopsis: The book surveys the Paris underworld in the 19th and 20th centuries. It echoes Sante’s 1991 debut, Low Life, which provided a similar glance toward the history of New York City, where Sante lived for many years. Both books celebrate the outcast, the criminal, and the bohemian.
How we heard about: From a review by Molly Haskell in the New York Times’s Sunday Book Review.


My Life on the Road_coverMy Life on the Road (Springtime Books, October 2015)
Author: Gloria Steinem
Expat credentials: Born in Ohio and based for many years in New York, the 81-year-old Steinem had an itinerant childhood and has traveled widely throughout the world, first as a journalist and then as a feminist leader. We count her as an international creative!
Synopsis: In her first book in 20 years, Steinem recounts the highlights of her travels across the country and the world to champion women’s rights, listening to stories that changed her perspective. She picked up the idea of a “talking circle,” for instance, during her extensive travels in India.
How we heard about: Steinem’s interview with Charlie Rose.


Polish-Your-Poise-NYT-coverPolish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance (Simon & Schuster, October 2015)
Author: Jennifer Scott
Expat credentials: Jennifer was a foreign exchange student in Paris who lucked out when her hostess turned out to be the epitome of chic and also took the time to teach Scott, a keen learner, about how to develop a personal style and lead a stylish life. Now back in her native California, Scott has applied these lessons to her everyday life and has published a “Madame Chic” book series.
Synopsis: Recalling the tips she received from her Parisian mentor, Scott addresses topics such as proper attire at social events, good grooming, communication skills, hospitality, being a good guest, and interactions with neighbors and strangers. (This is the third book in the series.)
How we heard about: We interviewed Scott about her debut work just before Simon & Schuster came knocking.


Behind the Indian Veil_coverBehind the Indian Veil (Liah Design Private Limited, September 2015)
Author: Sephi Bergerson
Expat credentials: An award-winning Israeli photographer, Bergerson has lived in India for more than 13 years, of which seven were spent working on this project.
Synopsis: Bergerson traveled the length and breadth of India experiencing, witnessing and documenting a greater variety of Indian weddings than any person on the planet. The book presents images and written stories from nuptials that took place in a vast assortment of Indian communities.
How we heard about: Bergerson’s first book, Street Food of India, was listed by the New York Times as one of the top ten cookbooks of 2010.


Beautiful Affliction_coverBeautiful Affliction (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Lene Fogelberg
Expat credentials: A native to Sweden, Fogelberg has lived elsewhere in Europe as well as in the United States, Indonesia, and now Malaysia.
Synopsis: Imagine finding out, just after you’ve made a big move to the United States with your family, that you’re in the last stages of a congenital fatal heart disease. Fogelberg, who is also a poet in Sweden, tells the story of her affliction with unflinching honesty, deep emotion, and exquisite detail.
How we heard about: Fogelberg was one of several expat writers to be “wonderlanded” on the Displaced Nation.


WaitingfortheTulipstoBloom_coverWaiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul (September, 2015)
Author: Lisa Morrow
Expat credentials: Born in Sydney, Australia, Morrow dropped out of university to go overseas. She hitchhiked through the UK, traveled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Iraq War was starting. She ended up staying three months in the Anatolian village of Göreme, in Cappadocia, an experience that changed her life. She trundled between Australia and Turkey while finishing her university degree and then moved to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, for a time. She has produced two collections of stories about her experiences in Turkey in addition to this full-length travelogue, which covers her decision to move to Istanbul permanently more than five years ago, this time with her husband in tow.
Synopsis: This is the story of Morrow’s unexpectedly bumpy transition into becoming an expat in Istanbul with her husband. Morrow takes a deep look into the challenges of intercultural living: what is it like to live as an expat and adjust to a new culture? For a start, there is the need to master the language. And then there is the Turkish bureaucracy, which can’t be avoided because of the need for work permits, health insurance, and real estate. So, did the tulips eventually bloom?
How we heard about: Morrow’s works are on several “best books on Turkey” list, and we hope to feature her memoir on our site this year.


The Dead Ladies Project_coverThe Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries (University of Chicago Press, September 2015)
Author: Jessa Crispin
Expat credentials: When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road. As it says on her author site: “She currently lives nowhere in particular.”
Synopsis: This is a memoir about Crispin’s personal journey, but the itinerary includes a number of locations that attracted artists who were in need of breaking free from their origins and starting afresh (e.g, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who started over from nothing in Switzerland), which gives Crispin pause for reflection.
How we heard about: From Crispin’s essay in the Boston Review: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


WayofWanderlust_coverThe Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George (Travelers’ Tales, September 2015)
Author: Don George, with foreword by Pico Iyer
Expat credentials: Though he lives in California, George has visited 90 countries and is one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers. He is the author of the best-selling Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. He qualifies as an “international creative”!
Synopsis: George takes us on a “mind travel” through Pakistan, Paris and Peru (among many other places) while also sharing something of his own life journey. A must-read for wannabe travel writers.
How we heard about: We follow Don George and National Geographic Traveler, where he is a columnist and editor at large, on Twitter.


Gap Year Girl_coverGap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Marianne C. Bohr
Expat credentials: Bohr is based in Bethesda, Maryland, but for her extensive travels we have given her a permanent pass into the land of international creatives.
Synopsis: In the 1960s and ’70s, thousands of baby boomers strapped packs to their backs and flocked to Europe, wandering the continent on missions of self-discovery. Many of these boomers still dream of “going back”―of once again cutting themselves free and revisiting the places they encountered in their youth, recapturing what was, and creating fresh memories along the way. This is the story of how Marianne Bohr and her husband, Joe, did just that.
How we heard about: Bohr is a Displaced Dispatcher and since last year has been contributing a “World of Words” column to the Displaced Nation.


Between River and Sea_coverBetween River and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine (Eland Books, August 2015)
Author: Dervla Murphy
Expat credentials: Born in Ireland as an only child, Murphy developed a determination to travel and see the world from an early age. In the event, she became a superb adventurer and prolific writer. Her first book, Full Tilt, describes her bicycle ride from Ireland to India, through Iran and Afghanistan. Though she still lives in Ireland (the town where she grew up), she belongs to our tribe of “international creatives.”
Synopsis: In her late seventies, Murphy took buses and tramped through the cities, villages, olive groves and pathless hills of the West Bank over five months in 2009 and 2010. She also spent three months in Israel in the winter of 2008-9, and met a wide cross-section of its residents. This book reports on the open conversations Murphy had with people she encountered on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How we heard about: From an essay in the Boston Review by Jessa Crispin: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


How Not to Travel the World_coverHow Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker (August 2015)
Author: Lauren Juliff
Expat credentials: Born in London, England, Lauren has spent the past several years visiting over 50 countries across five continents and is still searching for a place to call home. She blogs at Never Ending Footsteps.
Synopsis: Juliff tells the story of how someone who never thought she would venture out of her miniscule comfort zone has become a full-time traveler and writer, as well as a “walking disaster.” She says her example shows that transformation through travel is possible, even when terrible things happen to you.
How we heard about: Social media


Deconstructing Brazil_coverDeconstructing Brazil: Beyond Carnival, Soccer and Girls in Small Bikinis (Springtime Books, August 2015)
Author: Simone Torres Costa
Expat credentials: Born in Brazil, Costa has had successive international relocations throughout her adult life, both alone and with her family, with stays in the USA, Sweden, Poland, and Italy. After 15 years abroad, she moved back to Brazil and rediscovered an interest in Brazilian culture.
Synopsis: Costa attempts to “deconstruct” Brazil for foreign visitors. As she told editor Jane Dean in an interview, she wants expats to get beyond carnival, soccer, and girls in small bikinis to see what makes Brazil tick, which involves delving into the nation’s history.
How we heard about: From Jo Parfitt, the founder of Springtime Books.


From Venice to Istanbul_coverFrom Venice to Istanbul (BBC Digital, July 2015)
Author: Rick Stein
Expat credentials: Stein, who is an Englishman of German descent and was educated at Oxford, is a part-time expat in Sydney, Australia—his wife is Australian and he has a restaurant in New South Wales.
Synopsis: The book presents the recipes Chef Stein collected in his travels in the Eastern Mediterranean.
How we heard about: The book accompanies Stein’s BBC Two cookery series in the UK.


The Good Shufu_coverThe Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, June 2015)
Author: Tracy Slater
Expat credentials: A writer and an academic in her native Boston, Slater was sent to Japan to teach in an executive MBA program, where she met and fell in love with one of her students, a Japanese salaryman in Osaka. They married and she moved to Japan, where she lives in Greater Tokyo with her husband and daughter.
Synopsis: Slater narrates a moving story of letting go of her identity as an independent American woman to become part of a couple and an entirely different culture, where her chief identity is that of foreigner (gaijin) and housewife (shufu).
How we heard about: The Displaced Nation is a big supporter of Tracy Slater and her work, and we hope vice versa!


year of Fire Dragons_coverYear of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming in Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith Books, June 2015)
Author: Shannon Young
Expat credentials: Originally from Arizona, Shannon lives in Hong Kong with her Eurasian husband.
Synopsis: In 2010, Young followed her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. But when work sends him to London a month later, she embarked on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong – alone. This is the story of her adventures teaching English in a local school and exploring Asia with other young expats. Oh, and reader—she married him.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular Diary of an Expat Writer column for the Displaced Nation.


Inside the Crocodile_coverInside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals (Matador, June 2015)
Author: Trish Nicholson
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Man, Nicholson was destined from an early age to become a world traveler, culminating in five years of living in the wilds of West Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. She has since retreated to a quiet New Zealand hillside.
Synopsis: Nicholson has written a memoir of her adventures of working in development aid and serving as Honorary Consul in the Land of Surprises, as PNG is known. While based in the province of West Sepik, she had to contend with crocodiles, sorcery, near-fatal malaria—the list goes on.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Trish Nicholson about her memoir and other “scribblings” for Location, Locution.


TurkeyStreet_coverTurkey Street: Jack and Liam move to Bodrum (Springtime Books, May 2015)
Author: Jack Scott
Expat credentials: Scott is a former expat in Turkey. He has since repatriated to Norwich, England.
Synopsis: In the sequel to his popular memoir, Perking the Pansies, which was based on his expat blog of this name, Scott continues to narrate, in his dryly entertaining style, the Anatolian adventures he and his partner, Liam, embarked on after moving from London to Bodrum. Note: This particular expat tale has a surprising finale.
How we heard about: Jack Scott is a former Displaced Nation columnist.


The Year of Living Danishly_coverThe Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon, May 2015)
Author: Helen Russell
Expat credentials: A British journalist and former editor for MarieClaire.co.uk, Russell traded London for Jutland, Denmark, when her husband got a job at Lego. She now works as a Scandinavia correspondent for the Guardian as well as writing a column on Denmark for the Telegraph.
Synopsis: When she was unexpectedly given an opportunity to live in rural Denmark, Russell decided to give herself a year to uncover the Danish formula for happiness. She presents her findings in this book: where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong—and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
How we heard about: Helen Russell’s column in Telegraph Expat.


My Paris Dream_coverMy Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine (Spiegel & Grau, May 2015)
Author: Kate Betts
Expat credentials: Before she became a fashion editor at Vogue and the youngest-ever editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Betts was an expat in Paris. She moved there shortly after graduating from Princeton for a journalist internship, learning French, and ended up staying on. Although she now lives in New York, she says: “Paris has always stayed with me, close to me, and I’ve continually felt nourished by it.”
Synopsis: Betts reminisces about how she came of age as a fashion journalist while living in Paris in the 1980s, the highlight of which was working for Women’s Wear Daily under the legendary John Fairchild.
How we heard about: How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Brooks’s book).


Greekscapes_coverGreekscapes: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist, 2nd ed. (May 2015)
Author: Pamela Jane Rogers
Expat credentials: Born in North Carolina, Rogers left America after the break-up of her 12-year marriage and ended up settling on Poros, where for more than 26 years she has made her living as an artist.
Synopsis: This is Rogers’s memoir, edited by Bryony Sutherland. The second edition includes a selection of Rogers’s paintings, as requested by her readers.
How we heard about: Social media


Always Pack a Party Dress_coverAlways Pack a Party Dress: And Other Lessons Learned From a (Half) Life in Fashion (Blue Rider Press, May 2015)
Author: Amanda Brooks
Expat credentials: The ultimate American glamour girl, Brooks married the British artist Christopher Brooks and now lives with him and their two children on his family’s farm in Oxfordshire, UK.
Synopsis: After spending two decades in the fashion world that culminated in her appointment as creative director at Barney’s, Brooks abandons that plum post to become a Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s court, moving to a farm in the English countryside where she spends her days on fields and in barns, among animals and children. This memoir is her swan song to the world of fashion.
How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Betts’s book).


The Expat Partners Survival Guide_coverThe Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment (April 2015)
Author: Clara Wiggins
Expat credentials: Born in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Wiggins started traveling as a baby and hasn’t stopped since. She has visited nearly 70 countries and lived in 12—the twelfth being South Africa, where she recently moved with her husband and two daughters.
Synopsis: Drawing on the expert advice of more than 70 expat partners who have been there, done that and survived to tell their tales, Wiggins has produced an authoritative how-to guide for expat partners, aka trailing spouses. She is of course an expert herself, having spent her childhood as a trailing daughter accompanying her diplomat parents on various postings including the Philippines and Venezuela. She later saw life from the other side, when posted to Jamaica. More recently, she has been moving around with her young family because of her husband’s postings to Islamabad, St Lucia, and South Africa.
How we heard about: Social media.


AdventuresofaRailwayNomad_coverAdventures of a Railway Nomad: How Our Journeys Guide Us Home (Café Society Press, April 2015)Author: Karen McCann
Expat credentials: A fourth-generation Californian, McCann lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband for two decades before the couple moved to Seville, Spain, “for a year” and decided to make it their home.
Synopsis: McCann, who works as a freelance journalist and writer, provides an account of the attempt she and her husband made to recapture the spontaneity of travel in their youth by walking out of their Seville home with no more than a small bag and three-month Eurail pass in hand to see where life would take them.
How we heard about: One of her blog posts.


A Million Sticky Kisses_coverA Million Sticky Kisses: The Story of a Gringa Teacher in Chile (April 2015)
Author: Sally Rose
Expat credentials: Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City, before moving overseas to Santiago de Chile. She is now reviewing the prospects for her next overseas “home.”
Synopsis: In 2009, Sally Rose’s life-long dream of teaching English abroad becomes a reality when she goes to Chile as a volunteer teacher. Some days, her dream is more like a nightmare as she struggles with both the language and the culture. From avaricious school owners to chaotic classrooms, she is confronted with the complexities of being a “stranger in a strange land” while striving to make a difference for her students.
How we heard about: Rose was one of the writers to be “wonderlanded” on our site last year, and she is currently contributing a “perpetually perplexed peripatetic” expat column to the Displaced Nation.


HomersWheretheHeartIs_coverHomer’s Where The Heart Is: Two journalists, one crazy dog and a love affair with Greece (Pelagos Press, April 2015)
Author: Marjorie McGinn
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, McGinn moved to Australia as a child. As an adult she has worked as a journalist in both Sydney and the UK. With a life-long passion for Greece, she set off in 2010 for an adventure in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese. She and her partner, also a journalist, and their dog ended up staying four years. They are now back in Britain, living in East Sussex.
Synopsis: This is the second book in McGinn’s planned Peloponnese trilogy telling the story of what it was like to live in a remote village in southern Greece just as the country was sliding into economic crisis. The first was Things Can Only Get Feta, and the third is due out this summer.
How we heard about: From an article McGinn wrote for Telegraph Expat.


Daughters of the Samurai_coverDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back (W. W. Norton, April 2015)
Author: Janice P. Nimura
Expat credentials: An American, Nimura married a Japanese man who was raised as a Third Culture Kid in Seattle; he refused to accompany his parents back to Japan when he was in his teens. After their marriage, the couple moved to Tokyo for a while. Nimura claims to have become more Japanized than her husband did, even learning the language. They couple now lives in New York City.
Synopsis: In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan. Nimura reconstructs their Alice in Wonderland adventure.
How we heard about: Reviewed by Christopher Benfey for the New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review.


India Hicks Island Style_coverIndia Hicks: Island Style (Rizzoli, March 2015)
Author: India Hicks
Expat credentials: Born in England to famed decorator David Hicks and Lady Pamela Dicks (her grandfather was Lord Mountbatten, her godfather is Prince Charles, and she was a bridesmaid at his wedding to Lady Diana), Hicks has lived for many years on Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, with her partner, David Flint Wood, and their five children.
Synopsis: Hicks offers an illustrated guide to achieving her bohemian decorating style, which combines carefree Caribbean culture with British colonial form and formality. She takes us right insider her family’s enclave in the Bahamas.
How we heard about: A slideshow on Architectural Digest.


PassageoftheStork_coverPassage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul: One woman’s journey to self-realization and acceptance (Springtime Books, March 2015)
Author: Madeleine Lenagh
Expat credentials: Lenagh grew up as a Third Culture Kid and is a long-time expat (inpat?) in the Netherlands.
Synopsis: Using poetic vignettes and commentary by archetypes from Nordic mythology and fairy tales, Lenagh tells the story of her life-long struggle to put down roots and find a sense of permanency. She lived in Europe until age five because of her stepfather’s job as a military attaché; grew up in Connecticut; and then circled back to Europe, which she toured around, financed by her parents, at age 21. Her travels ended when she arrived in the Netherlands broke and took a job as an au pair. Did she know she would still be in Holland four decades later?
How we heard about: From her publisher Jo Parfitt; plus we have featured her photography in an “A Picture Says…” post.


Laughing All the Way to the Mosque_coverLaughing All the Way to the Mosque: The Misadventures of a Muslim Woman (Virago, March 2015)
Author: Zarqa Nawaz
Expat credentials: Born in Liverpool, England, to Pakistani parents, Nawaz was raised in Toronto. A successful Canadian journalist and broadcaster, she now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Synopsis: Nawaz tells us what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in Canada—from funeral rites to Rice Krispie squares—with a great sense of humor.
How we heard about: From one of the Virago editors, who said it was one of her favorite books of the year. She said it made her hoot with laughter while also teaching her about what it’s really like to be a Muslim in Western society.


Neurotic Beauty_coverNeurotic Beauty: An Outsider Looks at Japan (Water Street Press, March 2015)
Author: Morris Berman
Expat credentials: Berman emigrated from the US to Mexico in 2006, where he currently lives.
Synopsis: In Berman’s view, craftsmanship is Japan’s cultural soul, but in the 20th century, the country lost its way in trying to catch up to the West. This century, however, Japan has a chance to recapture its soul and become the first post-capitalist society, one where living is more important than owning.
How we heard about: Review by Peter Van Buren in HuffPostBooks.


Wonderlanded_coverWonderlanded: Life as an expat in China
(February 2015; note: also published in German)
Author: Kristina Kinder
Expat credentials: After working and studying in Spain, Kinder, who trained as an architect in her native Germany, decided to take the leap in 2010 and move to China. Initially she went to Shanghai—but then found herself in the running for a freelance architecture job in Kunming, a small city in Yunnan Province. She has since adopted Kunming as her home.
Synopsis: Kinder uses Alice in Wonderland allusions—for instance, she describes the three-and-a-half-hour-long flight to Kunming as a “crazy tea party,” where “everyone is chattering and shouting across the seats while holding the obligatory tea bottle”—along with her own whimsical illustrations, to tell the story of how living in China has enabled her to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
How we heard about: Through our Alice in Wonderland connections, Alice being one of the themes on the Displaced Nation from its start nearly five years ago.


Going Gypsy_coverGoing Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2015)
Author: David and Veronica James
Expat credentials: Since becoming empty nesters, this American couple has led a life of “perpetual motion,” the highlights of which they report on their popular blog Gypsynester.com. We consider them to be honorary expats. They are certainly international as well as being highly creative!
Synopsis: In telling the story of their lives, David and Veronica James show that it’s possible to do things backwards: marry, have kids, and then go gypsy.
How we heard about: We follow them on Twitter.


Pearl River Drama_coverPearl River Drama: Dating in China: A Memoir (January 2015)
Author: Ray Hecht
Expat credentials: Born in Israel and raised in the Midwest, freelance journalist Hecht moved from California to China in 2008. He now lives in Shenzhen, China.
Synopsis: The story of a Western male’s sexploits in the Far East is as old as the hills, but Hecht somehow makes this a story about every expat. The book is based on stories he already told in his blog.
How we heard about: Through Jocelyn Eikenburg’s interview with Hecht on her blog about cross-cultural relationships in China, Speaking of China.


Leaving Before the Rains Come_coverLeaving Before the Rains Come (Penguin Books, January 2015)
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Expat credentials: Born in England and grew up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia, Fuller currently spends much of her time in a yurt near Jackson, Wyoming.
Synopsis: This is Fuller’s third expat memoir. Her first two covered the first 20 years of her life, which she spent on a farm in revolution-torn southern Africa, the child of British expats. In this book, the focus is on the men in her life: her fatalistic father and her American (now ex-) husband, with whom she relocates from the wilds of Africa to the tamer wilds of Wyoming. They have three children, but then the marriage unravels.
How we heard about: Fuller is an outstanding memoirist and a master of writing about the displaced condition.

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Tell me, what have I missed? Kindly leave your recommendations for memoirs and other nonfiction works for, by, and about expats that came out in 2015 in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe for the new(ish) year?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay.

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Curiosity leads Elizabeth Gilbert’s Victorian heroine to international travel

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! Since I last wrote, summer has slipped by us. The gradual wicking away of days and weeks puts me in mind of the protagonist of the book I have chosen to review this month: The Signature of All Things, a scientific and historical novel by Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame).

The story’s heroine, Alma Whittaker, an early Victorian botanist living in North America, thinks of time as running on three concurrent tracks:
1) Human Time, which goes by as quickly and flittingly as a summer’s day.
2) Geological Time, in which the Earth moves.
3) Moss Time, which reflects the events of both Human and Geological time but moves at its own pace, expanding rapidly.

signature_coverAlma regrets that her life is stuck on the track of Human Time in an era that doesn’t favor women of character, intelligence and strength (but not looks). I found her fascinating and think that you international creatives will find her that way as well for these three reasons:

1) She is a Third Culture Kid and a polyglot.

As the daughter of English and Dutch botanists who eloped to start an empire on stolen seeds in the New World, Alma is a delightful fictional example of a Third Culture Kid. She has an unconventional upbringing at a time when most young ladies of her class were strictly bound by convention.

Gilbert writes:

She learned that walking carefully in the mud to save one’s boots or the hems of one’s skirts never rewarded one’s search. She was never scolded for returning home with muddied boots and hems.

At home, Alma speaks English with her British-born father, an old rascal who sailed with Captain Cook and turned himself into a rare plants and pharmaceuticals baron, one of the richest and most powerful men in Philadelphia; and a mix of classical languages with her highly educated mother. As for her nurse:

[The nurse] always spoke Dutch to Alma, and Dutch, to Alma’s ears would forever be the language of comfort and bank vaults and salted ham and safety.

Alma spends her childhood wandering in the breathtaking gardens and fields of her father’s estate, working on French and Latin, and being regaled with tales of far-flung expeditions at her parents’ dinner parties. She grows into a young woman with a wide breadth of knowledge but a constricted life experience.

2) Alma chooses to expand her horizons through international travel, rather like Gilbert herself.

Many novelists would slow down the narrative at this point, bring in a love interest (and a rival or two), and make the story all about the broadening of Alma’s horizons through a courtship followed by marriage. But Gilbert, who first made herself known to the world through the memoir of her solo travels to Italy (to eat), India (to pray) and Bali (where she found love), isn’t the right author for such conventions.

True, Alma’s youth, measured in Human Time, speeds by, but in the world Gilbert creates, one need not be young to have adventures. Indeed, Alma’s true adventures begin only after she believes she’s past her prime, when she enters Moss Time.

The spark that ignites those adventures is a surprise even to her. While contemplating the passage of her middle years, Alma discovers her passion for researching moss and its evolution. Moss, of course, knows no national boundaries. As Gilbert writes:

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones.

After Alma’s marriage fails, she sets sail for Tahiti.

As she takes off, so does the book—at least for me: Alma’s voyage across the Atlantic and Pacific was one of my favorite parts of the novel. Experiencing the long, slow sea voyage through the eyes of someone educated but who, at age 48, had barely left the confines of the family estate made for a compelling read.

“The ocean both stunned and disturbed her. Nothing had ever put more of an impression upon her being,” writes Gilbert. “It seemed to her the very distillation of matter, the very masterpiece of mysteries.”

There are also moments when her innocence clashes with her surroundings, as we see in this passage:

Alma offered payment in American coins, but the man attempted to make change for her from a handful of dirty Spanish piastres and Bolivian pesos. Alma could not figure out how he was possibly calculating his currency exchange, until she realized hew as trading in his dull old coins for her shiny new ones.

3) Alma’s insatiable curiosity is the driving force behind her travels.

It is tempting to see Alma as an extension of Gilbert: abandoning a marriage to travel recalls Gilbert’s break-out memoir Eat, Pray, Love. But in that book, along with its sequel Committed: A Love Story, Gilbert’s primary concern is with her ongoing personal evolution as writer, person, friend and romantic partner. In Signature, by contrast, Gilbert has created a character who as a young girl has already surpassed society’s expectations of what she can become. Alma is an intellectual whiz—fluent in languages, adept at math and strategy, precise in science and research—and a sensitive, caring friend. She’s strong. She’s healthy. But most of all, she’s curious—something I think she has in common with those of us who’ve chosen to live in other cultures.

When Alma reaches 16, she is faced with the decision to throw away a pornographic book or hide it. Gilbert writes:

But what about the cankerworm of curiosity that lived within Alma’s belly? What about its desire to feed daily upon the novel, the extraordinary, the true?

Then when Alma is approaching 60, she finally meets the special someone she has been searching for for years and says:

Allow me to tell you something about myself, for it might help you to speak more freely. Implanted in my very disposition—though I do not always consider it either a virtue or a blessing—is a desire to understand the nature of things.

Interestingly, curiosity seems to have become a mantra for Gilbert these days. On recent speaking tours (with Oprah, for example), she has been offering writers this advice:

Foster your curiosity even more than your passion.

To sum up: The Signature of All Things is not always a page-turner and Alma is not always a likable character, but the book held my attention to the end, in large part because I wanted to find out what happened to Alma. Gilbert’s writing, too, is impressive. Certain scenes in the book—the docks and a moss cave in Tahiti, the Spartan kitchen Alma’s abolitionist sister keeps, the crude sea tales of Alma’s father—are portrayed with such cinematic clarity I will never forget them.

Those who have read the book may know that readers have criticized Gilbert for focusing too much attention on Alma’s (mostly unfulfilled) sexual desires. I did not feel that way. Through the force of her sheer intelligence, Alma takes us closer to a period of our history that wasn’t so long ago, at least in Geological Time, when scientific findings were beginning to challenge traditional beliefs. As the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said:

Curiosity is the lust of the mind.

What say you, Displaced Nationers? Are you curious about Gilbert’s latest? Until we meet again, may Human Time roll by slowly for a change. (And if it doesn’t, plant some moss on it!)

* * *

Thanks, Beth! Until I read this review, I hadn’t realized that Elizabeth Gilbert, a member of our Displaced Hall of Fame for her travel memoir, had moved on to fiction. Readers, are you familiar with Signature and Alma Whittaker? If so, were you just as smitten as Beth was?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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Trevi Fountain blesses American woman’s coins, granting her true love, a new life abroad, and now a book (we’re giving it away!)

Catherine Tondelli book signing photoWhile an expat in Japan, I mastered the ritual of tossing coins into the offering box, or saisenbako, at the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple while clapping twice (to attract divine attention) and then making a short prayer.

In the West, of course, we toss coins into fountains and make a wish, but I’d never been one for doing that.

I might start trying it, though, now I’ve read Catherine Tondelli’s memoir, Three Coins in the Fountain, which recounts the luck she had in finding a mate the moment she tossed three coins into the Trevi fountain in the Città Eterna.

Sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood film, doesn’t it? Except, wait a minute, that film has already been done (in the 1950s)!

And it’s real life we are talking about here, not the movies.

Besides, Tondelli has kindly granted me three wishes:

  1. She will answer some questions about her memoir as well as her writing process (see below).
  2. She will GIVE AWAY TWO COPIES (hard copy or Kindle) to the two readers who toss in the best comment below.
  3. She will make the book available for free download for a short period—to be revealed at some point in our weekly Displaced Dispatch. (What? Not a subscriber? SIGN UP NOW!)

Before we start, I should mention that Tondelli’s book has been likened to another book recounting travels in the wake of divorce: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. But for me, a half-Italian American, Tondelli’s more restricted itinerary makes a a lot more sense. Who needs India and Bali when you can easily get the whole package—great food, a renewed faith in relationships and family, and love—in Bella Italia?

Like me, Tondelli is half-Italian, and I like to think it’s that ancestry that made her realize the truth of Madonna Louise Ciccone’s assertion: “Italians do it better.”

* * *

3-Coins-in-Fountain-by-Catherine-Tondelli_dropshadowWelcome, Catherine. I read your book not long after I’d finished Imperfect Pairings, by Jackie Townsend, which we featured in this space this past November. But that was an autobiographical novel based on Jackie’s marriage to an Italian man. So here’s my question: did you ever consider telling your story as fiction, or perhaps using it to develop a film script for a romantic comedy?
I originally thought about writing it as a novel, but my story was so unique and it gave so much hope to women who have given up all hope of ever finding the man of their dreams after 40 years old. Most people would never believe that stories like this really do happen and that true love will find you as easily as tossing some coins in a fountain. I also felt that many people could relate to my crazy stories of growing up in a large family. In the 1960s it was normal to have families of seven or more children; but, with the exception of Cheaper by the Dozen, there is very little written about large families. You have a lot of crazy stories when you grow up with ten siblings!

Yes, I noticed in the press release for the book that you grew up in Chicago as one of 11 kids who were left behind by a deadbeat, jazz musician dad. Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with the man who bequeathed you the surname “Tondelli”? After all, he features in the book quite a bit as well.
I had a very challenging relationship with my father and harbored resentment towards him for many years. I was only 12 years old when he walked out on my mother. It had a huge impact on the relationships I had and the men I chose. A daughter’s first bonding with any man is with her father: he is her first boyfriend, role model for the men she chooses. We often repeat what we know rather than what we want: we need “familiar,” even if it’s unhealthy. I kept choosing unsuitable men until fate stepped in and finally tossed me a “get a good man” coin to throw in the Trevi fountain.

Did you and your father ever reconcile?
I didn’t speak to him for twenty years. We finally reunited when I was attending a conference in Las Vegas and he was a musician playing on the strip. I called him and we had dinner together. We hugged and kissed at the end of the evening: it was a huge healing moment in my life. I was never as close to him as I was to my mother but we had a good relationship up until the day he passed away one year ago. Writing about him also helped me to heal.

Sono pazzo di te (I’m crazy about you…or am I just crazy?!)

Now turning to the man who would become your husband, the handsome and irrepressible Fausto. Since romance is a big part of what your book is about, I’d like to recount the first moment when the pair of you set eyes on each other. Newly divorced, you were traveling in Italy with your mom and had by that time reached Rome and the Fontana di Trevi, where your mother handed you three coins and urged you to wish for a nice man to come into your life. At that very moment, you heard an Italian man say: “Eeffa you wanta your wish to comb true, you avv to trow the coins witah your layft (h)and as eet’s closer to your (h)art…”
Yes, and then he asked if I knew “de meaning of da tree coins”:

“Da first coin, you find your love in Rome, da second coin, you return to Rome and the t(h)ird coin, you marry in Rome.”

And that’s what happened: he and I fell in love, I returned, and we got married.

Chi ama me, ama il mio gatto (Whoever loves me, loves my cat)

Jackie Townsend entitled her book “Imperfect Pairings” because she thinks Americans have an idyllic view of cross-cultural marriage with Europeans, thinking it sounds very romantic—whereas the reality tends to be culture clash after culture clash. You seem to believe in the romance while also acknowledging there were hurdles along the way. After you got over assuming Fausto was gay, you suspected you might be just one in a long line of fountain pick-ups. And even after he at last won your trust, you and he had to struggle to get used to each other’s habits. He did not take well at first to sleeping with your beloved Siamese cats, for instance.
Three Coins is not your stereotypical girl-on-holiday-meets-man-of-her-dreams-and-lives-happily-ever-after. Yes, we did meet on my trip to Italy, but falling in love and moving to Italy was the last thing I’d expected. I came to Italy only after I had worked for three years in London and only when finding a good job in Rome. And when he proposed, I called my sister.

I like that you put a map at the beginning of the book, showing all the destinations you and Fausto traveled to together, before you decided to live in the same place. I presume Italy and Italian culture were an adjustment?
Even though I grew up in an Italian American household, the cultural learning curve for me was huge.
My mother descends from Irish stock, and Fausto couldn’t believe his ears when I told him my Irish grandmother had put money aside in her will to host a luncheon following her funeral for all her friends and family. When his father passed away, we went down to the morgue to say our last goodbye and then off to the church and finally the cemetery, all within two hours. No lunch, no funeral home, no photographs—it was all too fast, no time to mourn to grieve with family or friends. A real Mork & Mindy moment for me.

Was that your most displaced moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing with an Italian?
That’s one, and another would be the Christmas after we moved into our new palazzo in Rome. I went to our five neighbors in the building and brought them Christmas cookies I made and a bottle of Spumante. Fausto looked at me with all my plates of cookies and bottles of Asti in my hand and said: “My love, what are you doing??” I went on to explain that we always bring something over to the next door neighbors in America for Christmas. He just stood there and smiled and said “We don’t do that in Italy.” I said, well, we’re going to start now!

Can you also pinpoint your least displaced moment, the first time you realized you felt much more comfortable with him and in Italy than you do with a man from your own culture in the U.S.?
I think it was when there was a Lazio (Rome) football game on TV and instead he took me to see a classical music concert at the Auditorium. He wasn’t telling me all night how much he was giving up for me…he really enjoyed the concert! I am a big baseball fan, not soccer. I was thrilled.

Non si serra mai una porta che non se n’apra un’altra (When one door closes another opens)

Moving on to the writing of the book: What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
Being constantly turned down by traditional publishers. Also, people I knew who already had books published weren’t very encouraging. Luckily, I didn’t let them get me down. After shopping it around for about six months, I decided to self publish. I realized with all my marketing and PR experience I could do a better job then they could in promoting my book in getting it to the right audience.

I see that you’ve listed Francesca Maggi as a co-author. How did that relationship work?
I was lucky as she was an editor and also an author and a friend. She had just published Burnt by the Tuscan Sun, and I asked for her help on the editing process. I gave her my manuscript and she polished and refined it pointing out my weaknesses and suggested options to strengthen those areas. She was instrumental in getting the flow right and helped with the technical elements. She was a natural choice for me as we share a common love of Italy and America, and she knew my husband well.

Can you offer any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
Don’t get discouraged. Publishing a book is not easy but if you have a good story, you now at least have options to get it out there. I love this quote by women’s fiction writer Jennifer Weiner:

The difference between people who believe they have books inside of them and those who actually write books is sheer cussed persistence—the ability to make yourself work at your craft, every day—the belief, even in the face of obstacles, that you’ve got something worth saying.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
I really thought the target would be women between 20 and 60 (I do get a lot of emails from women like myself, and am happy they can relate), but I have been amazed at how many men also have written to me to say how much they enjoyed reading it. Obviously anyone who loves Italy, old-time romance, or stories of expat life in Europe would find it entertaining.

What do men like about the book?
I’ve had some nice comments from men who said that they were taking notes on Fausto’s techniques… Many of them also grew up in a large family. Also, Fausto was still a bachelor at 50. His story, too, can be inspiring!

Living La Dolce Vita

In your book you question whether Americans have their values in the right place given that we take so little vacation compared to people in Europe. Have you continued to feel this way about the U.S. since marrying Fausto and settling down in Rome?
Two years ago I decided to live like the Romans do and started working for myself so I could spend more time in the US visiting family and friends and also have more time to enjoy La Dolce Vita.

Do you think you could come back to live in the United States? What would be the adjustments?
After living in Italy for more than 12 years it would be very difficult for me to return to live in the US. Fausto and I have discussed moving back to California as he also acts in film and there are many more opportunities, but then we thought: how can we go and live in a city where they close the restaurants at ten o’clock? It would be very difficult to replace our lifestyle in the US. That said, I would love to transport the US postal office here as Italy still doesn’t have postal stamp machines. I bring my book and my computer now when I go to the post office as I know I’ll be spending the day there.

10 Questions for Catherine Tondelli

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Blood from a Stone, by Donna Leone, part of her crime series set in Venice.
2. Favorite literary genre: Biographies or autobiographies: real-life stories are always so much more interesting than anything you could make up. That said, I also enjoy reading fiction.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I usually have long flights as my mother lives in San Diego and I fly from Rome three or four times per year to see her couple that with all the travel I do for my work (am working on events in Dubai, Nairobi, Singapore and London at the moment). I always have three or four books in my library at home that I wait eagerly to put in my carry-on bag for my long, hopefully peaceful journey. I am old fashioned and still like to feel the paper when i read a book.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Jimmy Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis. I believe that Jimmy Carter has been one of our great leaders yet he is so humble. He was my 95-year-old grandmother’s favorite president. He tells us that for example the USA gives far less foreign aid to developing countries than most people imagine. And, much of this aid goes to certain select countries whose loyalty we are trying to buy rather than because we want to help the poor. The book opened up my eyes to understand how we are perceived internationally. It will give Obama a good reminder that values and morals are more important than being powerful.
5. Favorite books as a child: Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
6. Favorite heroine: I have many but at the moment it is Malala, the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban and survived.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Beatrix Potter. I loved her books as a child, and she was also one of the early pioneer woman who broke the male barrier in publishing.
8. Your reading habits: I like to read in bed with my two Siamese cats (Stella and Luisa) on my lap.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Three Coins in the Fountain, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality, by Pam Grout. She provides experiments that prove our thoughts really do create our reality.

* * *

Thanks so much, Catherine. Readers, your turn! Any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Catherine? What would YOU wish for with your three coins, having heard her story? Come on, Valentine’s Day is coming! Surely, someone out there aspires to be the next heart wearing the valentine of the Frank Sinatra song?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s TCK TALENT column, by Lisa Liang.

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DEAR MARY-SUE: Reconnecting with old friends (the year in review)

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com

There’s chestnuts roasting on an open fire (well, baking in my Jenn-Air 48″ Pro-Style gas oven) and I’m sipping on a glass of eggnog while listening to Michael Buble’s take on some Christmas classics Yepsiree, it’s a Mary-Sue Christmas!!
Christmas is an important time for the ol’ Wallace homestead. Hubby really goes all out with the Christmas lights and we’re now something of a seasonal event in Tulsa. People come from all over the state to see hubby’s lights. Must say, I’m not happy when I see the electricity bill.
Anyhoo, on with the final column of the year (time hasn’t just flown this year, it’s broke the sound barrier. It’s like that Austrian Lee Majors who fell from space in a Red Bull balloon).
Now, I know from you regular readers that one thing you’re always asking me about is what happened to those who wrote in to me. Did they follow my advice (yes, if they had any sense). Well, as it’s the end of the year, let’s see, shall we?
*****************************************************************************************
First up is Sharon who wrote to me for advice on whether spending time at an ashram in India was necessary for her spiritual enlightenment. (She had just read the book Eat, Pray, Love.) I advised her to go for a hike or take up watercolors (she lives in Texas), or if she just wanted to escape, sure, take a plane trip to India. Here is her story since then:“A lot has happened since I sent you that letter in January of this year. I took your advice and went on a hike rather than going off to an ashram. Unfortunately, during the hike, I got a nasty snake bite. After eight months in a deep coma, I finally woke from it at the end of August. Every day is now a blessing, and I’ve come to the realization of what I want to do in my life. That’s why in the new year, I am off to India where I WILL join an ashram. Why, I figure, let my fear of what other people think get in the way of me living my life.” 
Lot of snakes in India, Sharon … a lot of snakes
* * **********************************************************************************
Another letter that received a lot of votes was the one from Lars in Los Angeles. He couldn’t fathom what it meant when someone in that fair city wished him a Happy Anti Valentines Day. I told him it was a sign he should get the heck out of LA and move to Tulsa. Did he take my advice? Let’s hear his story:

“I did come out and visit Tulsa to see whether I could make a life for myself out there. I had a look round … let’s just say it gave me a whole new perspective on life in LA.”

Your loss, Lars.* * **********************************************************************************
There were also some votes from Patti in Plymouth who wondered what she should do with a gift of a jar of Marmite from her host family. I told her not to worry as it probably wouldn’t make it past customs. But is that what happened?“Actually, I did get past customs with my Marmite jar. And you know something else? Everyone hated it. I however douse it all over philly cheesesteaks.”

They’re going to run you out of town, sweetie.

 *************************************************************************************
That’s it from me this year, dear readers. Here’s hoping your misery and confusion keeps me occupied in 2013 as I was in 2012! God bless us all!
STAY TUNED for next week’s post, some more Random Nomad highlights.

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